Learning to Reduce Stress
Stress is a bitch. It is so prevalent today, that it’s listed as a growing cause of obesity, alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction and other negative behaviors. I’ve come to realize that a highly stressful lifestyle is not sustainable for me, and this is the first step of many to make a change.
I don’t think that the above statement is a surprise to anyone, and yet it scares me that people just accept this as a fact of life and continue on. The real mistake that most people make in this instance is that they choose to cope with stress, instead of curbing it; putting themselves in a horrible cycle. For me, it required hitting a breaking point -of sorts- for stress in my life. After feeling the repercussions of stress both physically and mentally, I decided to take stock of my life and try to begin reducing my stress load immediately.
Finding the stressors
I started keeping a list of people, actions, or tasks that increased my stress beyond an acceptable amount. For two weeks, I wrote down everything that stressed me out and even noted which items were over the top.
After a simple audit, the stressors that remained on my list were grouped and ranked in a spreadsheet —yes, a damn spreadsheet— and I began trying to deal with them. It’s a daily process that I’m trying to consciously evolve on a weekly basis.
Dealing with my stressors
No matter what job you have, there is going to be an expected level of stress. It was important for me to find the root causes of my stresses and try to change my behaviors to help reduce the cause of stresses. After the two week period I was able to identify a few high-level causes for stress and have put together some plans for how to deal with them.
Being a control freak – Easily one of my biggest issues is that I take great pride in my work, and it is often difficult to hand off tasks to others, especially if I am not convinced that they are going to deliver the results that I expect. At Avelient, we’ve been fortunate that we could hire smart, talented, professional people for our team. As a leader, my way to sanity is to create milestones to check in on a project, hand it off to the team and let them do their job. Not only is this an effective way to reduce stress, but it’s an important step in unlocking the potential of your team. If you are constantly looking over their shoulder, micromanaging their work, you don’t give them an opportunity to grow or produce at their highest potential.
Not being able to say “no” to people – One of my personality “faults” is that I hate not being able to say no to a person, even if it puts me in a tough situation. I suppose it comes from being a middle child and trying to prove myself or some childhood related issue, but I am learning to say no, and value both my personal time as well as my time as a businessman. It’s harder than it sounds… Here are some good tips!
Working less hours – In the entrepreneurial world, there is definitely a mindset that in order for you to crush it, you must work ridiculously long hours. In some cases, this is true, however, if one is to avoid burnout in the long run, once you’ve established your business, working long hours does not mean you’re necessarily getting more done. When you are sleep deprived and stressed simply because you can’t stop working, it is important to realize that you are not being productive, you really are just spinning your wheels. Here’s a great discussion regarding this topic on LinkedIn.
Communication boundaries – In the hyper connected world that we live in, it’s easy to allow people to contact you in anyway they want, at any time that is convenient. This ability, while useful at times, can lead to unreal expectations, and can seriously hamper your ability to focus on your own work. To create some order, I have started signing out of chat, shutting off my phone, and putting up auto-responders for email when I am trying to be productive. A large part of my job involves constant communication, so I know this will continue to be a stress point for me, but with some dedicated “me time” during the day, I hope to reduce some of the communication stress.
Simple steps for curbing stress
Here are a few nutshell ideas that I’m trying to implement in my life to reduce stress immediately:
- Work in sprints – If you have the ability to set your own work-schedule, try this! My day starts at 5 AM each day, and by working in 35-45 minute sprints, with a 15 minute break to drink water, walk around, or do something away from your work-area has proven to reduce my heart rate and relax my mind. I typically go play with my dogs for 10 minutes.
- Sign out of extranious communication tools / social networks – By making myself unavailable on social networks, chat apps, etc, —while I’m busy— I’ve been able to reduce the amount of questions & messages that I need to respond to. If you don’t want to be interrupted by chats, sign the hell out of the chat program.
- Tell people that they are stressing you out – I have found that it is very theraputic to just tell people when you are stressed and that they are adding to it. I’d recommend you do this in a nice way, but most likely, they will understand where you are coming from, and will work with you to postpone their problem / question for you.
Now, I know that to many, the ideas and problems I’ve expressed so far are common sense, and hey, congrats to you. You either live a much less stressful life, or you’re much better at managing your stress. That said, I would encourage anyone to actually audit their life, write down stressors, I think that many of you would find that you may have some unnecessary stressors in your life.
Join me, live longer!
Over the next month, I plan to continue documenting my efforts to curb the unreasonable stresses in my life. I’d be very interested in hearing from others that are living at higher-than-acceptable levels of stress and how you’re learning to curb it. I’d like to make it to 30 without many more gray hairs…